Another Borders was Possible

I was raised in Hawick, although moving there at six months old excluded me from Teridom. In the 1960s, Hawick was a close-knit town dominated by textile mills that employed workers by the thousand. The mills had changed little in a hundred years. They were harsh, Victorian places in which cap-doffing was a reality. My mum and dad spent their working lives sweating a profit for factory owners. The town was so sewn-up by large textile businesses, earning it the moniker, Dawson City.

The Glasgow slum clearances precipitated a large refugee influx into Hawick. A unionised, weegie workforce flooded into the mills. Confrontation ensued with owners but also with indigenous Borderers. There was deep suspicion of a different culture. Indigenous Borderers were fearful of speaking against the mill owners. The antagonism to weegie refugees was palpable.

Hawick’s personality, dominated by aye been, had seen the odd radical spark. John MacLean was a regular speaker at what is now the Heart of Hawick. Alas, his interest in Hawick was probably motivated more by romancing Nan Milton than revolutionary politics! A worker’s cooperative in the 1930s supplied materials to revolutionary Spain. A strong railway workers union in the 1950s was the back bone of the local Labour Party. But this radicalism was transitory; not the marrow of Hawick’s bone.

The cultural clash in Hawick in the 1970s was significant. We were very confused about why other children were told not to play with us. We were Glasgow scruff. Different from local Presbyterians; we walked across town to our own chapel and school. We spoke a different language. We weegies didn’t know our place. We were bolshie, loud and raucous. Playing with the wrong shape of ball, we earned Bill McLaren’s approbation. Hawick was small c conservative, wrapped in deferential, Victorian wool.

The 1970s saw this come to a head through town-wide industrial action. The textile mills were closed by strikes; leadership coordinated by weegies. Of course, the dispute was crushed and the chance for Hawick to move into the 20th century was lost. The story would have been familiar in company towns 100 years earlier. Every element of division was thrown at workers. Weegies were often blamed for importing trouble.

In the 1990s, it was a handful of young women who took the conservative culture on. This was a culture which excluded a prominent local catholic from its festival leadership simply for being catholic. The women’s simple request was to ride alongside men in the local Common Riding festival. These women were physically attacked. They were spat at, threatened with rape and assault and had to be allocated police protection. Partially successful, their individual heroism was pyrrhic; they were forced to move out of the town for their own safety.

Attempts are being made at revitalising the town. Some physical change is evident. However, Hawick is denuded of its industry. The international companies have taken their profits and gone. The new railway doesn’t reach the town. Unemployment is low because people simply move out. Young people leave for college and don’t return. The High Street is grim. The town, despite attempts at regeneration, has little direction or purpose. It feels left behind.

Hawick thought is still dominated by the remnants of those who once inhabited the Con Club and the Legion. This, “Ah kent yer faither” approach, coupled with the affluence of landed Berwickshire, inhibits a real growth mind-set in the Borders.

It’s therefore no surprise that the Borderers voted Tory; the surprise is, that for a brief period, they did see that another Borders was possible.

Comments (12)

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  1. bringiton says:

    Interesting that many of our rural areas have supported the Tories and wonder how much of it is down to cap in hand mentality.
    Land ownership reform needs to be speeded up as this is will foster self confidence and the realisation that there are possibilities beyond the present narrative.
    It worked for Norway so why not Scotland.

  2. Jason Harrison says:

    Power and Powerlessness https://g.co/kgs/9Nj8PE
    This book is worth a read re hegemonic power over a community: although it’s not that easy to get hold of, it’s very well written and insightful

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      Looks like an excellent read which is very pertinent to the reality of small town Scotland. I’ve taken this from a review:
      “The most complicated part of Gaventa’s book comes in its initial chapter, wherein he lays out his three dimensions of power model. The first dimension of power is the notion popularly advanced by pluralists: namely, that one group wields power over another and gets it to do something it would not otherwise do. In this dimension, powerlessness and lack of participation originates from individual choice and reflects a relative contentment with the status quo. The second dimension of power is concerned with control of who is actually involved in power negotiation and what issues are addressed. In this dimension, powerlessness comes from systematic or structural barriers that prevent the participation of some groups or individuals. The third dimension of power seeks to prevent conflict by shaping consciousness and awareness or controlling information. Throughout the book, Gaventa primarily draws from the second and third dimensions of power to explain the connection between mountain-miners and their favoring of quiescence over rebellion.”

  3. John says:

    The Scottish Government needs to speed up it’s land reforms it seems to be on the back burner , still far too much subservience in these areas , the people seem to be very cowed and short of vision .

  4. Alf Baird says:

    The Scottish census indicates that over one million people have come from rest-UK to live in Scotland in the past 20 years, and trends show another 600,000+ will arrive between 2014-2024. Attractive locations, lower relative house prices, and superior public services are all incentives for people to come over the border. But voting intention surveys indicate this group are 80%+ No voters and hence will vote for unionist parties. Scotland has an ageing population largely because we are importing an ageing population, and one that predominantly has little interest in Scottish nationhood, indeed quite the opposite. The census also tells us that the largest immigrant group to Scotland over the last 100 years and more has been people from rest-UK, mostly in the professions.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      Alf, I think all this is generally true but it’s not a particular issue in Hawick which has seen little inward migration since the 1970s.
      However, what I would say is that often the middle class incomers to the Borders were the people who created a counter narrative to small town parochialism. That has been evident in the development of micro-businesses, counter-culture festivals and arts activities which challenged people’s thought processes. The reality is though, that this counter culture is a transitory veneer.

  5. Sheikh Mabunnet says:

    Having been born in Hawick and spent my formative years in the area, I have only known the Liberals & Conservatives to have any significant presence in the area, though thankfully the former more than the latter for many years. I was always of the opinion that people were effectively voting for the old Tory & Whig parties of the 1700s, due to the attitude of “weel, ma faither voted thaut wey, an if it’s guid enough for him, it’s guid enough for mei.” Heaven forfend folks should actually think for themselves!
    I was involved with the SNP group there before I moved away, and we always felt like a tiny, ragtag bunch of naughty schoolkids (even the pensioners!). Labour was never anywhere to be seen, other than a few lampost placards at election time. Thus, I was amazed, and immensely proud, when Calum took the seat in 2015. I had a sneaky suspicion however that it was too good to be true 🙁

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      I wonder if we were aware of each other; I didn’t know too many sheiks in Hawick. I was one of those elusive Labour Party members in my teens. The SNP Vote did drop but their defeat was caused by the LibDem vote’s complete collapse to the Tories. I see that the Labour vote, having doubled, is now double that of the LibDems.

      Aye be ever independent? Aye, right!

  6. IJM says:

    Is it any wonder the young folk do not return. ? Another classic take on the Auld Yins
    Hell mend them.

    If “doffing yer cap” to yer betters was an Olympic sport, I am sure quite a few areas
    in Scotland , would be on the podium.

  7. Mark says:

    You seem to think folk should want Independence just for the fact of being Scottish. That isn’t how it works.
    Small town, rural Scotland is blighted by a lack of investment, opportunity and diversity and from being ignored and misunderstood by the central belt politicos.
    The only people employing Borderers and investing in The Borders and who are visible in The Borders are the local land owners and farmers/producers .
    Their culture is very stagnant and inward looking and the only way to break that is investment in infrastructure, jobs and immigration.
    I’m English living in Jedburgh and even tho’ it’s beautiful here it is also very stale and not at all dynamic.
    The Scottish Gov’t should be more involved around here. Don’t blame Hawick folk for matters that are beyond their control or influence.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      “The only people employing Borderers and investing in The Borders and who are visible in The Borders are the local land owners and farmers/producers.”
      I’d be interested to hear of the landowners and farmers who’ve invested in Hawick over the last 50 years? You make the mistake of many people in classifying twons like Hawick as rural. essentially, Hawick’s current post-industrial is more analogous to former mining towns than the landward Borders.
      Hawick’s history was built on industrialisation, intensive factory production and population density. The fact that industry is no longer in evidence is part of the reason why Hawick seems adrift. What Hawick needs is a post-industrial regeneration plan.

      “You seem to think folk should want Independence just for the fact of being Scottish. That isn’t how it works.”
      Where exactly did the article mention independence?

    2. Sheikh Mabunnet says:

      “the only way to break that is investment in infrastructure, jobs and immigration.” That is definitely not the only way, and indeed smacks of the “too wee, too stupid” cringe from which too many Scots suffer. “We cannae dae it oorsels, we need someone else to fix it for us”
      True regeneration will, and can, only come from within.

      I’m not saying the Scottish Government shouldn’t be involved more (of course they should), but to say that the people of Hawick can’t control or influence matters themselves is a huge abdication of responsibility.

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